Monday, May 27, 2013

Historic photographs. The work of C.D.Hoy in Quesnel and Barkerville at the turn of the last century.

I recently found a book in the Ganges library that chronicles the frontier days of B.C.
'First Son. Portraits by C.D. Hoy.” by Faith Moosang, combines reproductions of Hoy's photographs with a thoughtful account of the early days of Barkerville and Quesnel, especially the easy going relationships between Native, Chinese and Caucasians in this frontier environment compared to the racist attitudes prevalent in the major centres at that time. It is the photographs that drew me into this little book and it just goes to show that all these years later that it is the person of the sitter that remains important rather than the 'artistic' treatment that I might favour in my own portrait work.

It is the hands of the sitters that are prominent. Working with available light only, Hoy, especially when working indoors, was restricted to long exposures and wide open apertures with their narrow depth of field. By his putting the hands in sharp focus we are drawn by what they reveal about every sitter, irrespective of race or nationality. It would also explain why so many images were made outside in natural light. It is in the fringes of the photos, what we would crop off today as distracting, that so much detail emerges about conditions at the time; a Caucasian family poses on the porch of their nice home, the steps however are roughly built of raw lumber.

Perhaps because the photographer was Chinese himself, the people before the lens seem so relaxed, so secure within themselves and this is for me the real appeal of Hoy's photography. They look at us across the hundred years of history that separate us and we feel ourselves to be their kin, we smile back. We know them.

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